Long-time astronomy prof dies at age 71

By Natasha Bhuyan
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, October 18, 2004

Raymond E. White Jr., a UA distinguished professor emeritus of astronomy, died Tuesday in his Tucson home at age 71.

Ruby White, Raymond White's wife, said the cause of Tuesday's death is unknown, although she suspects her husband had a heart attack. The couple would have celebrated their 48th wedding anniversary last Saturday.

Ruby White said her husband lived a full life and touched many people, with students scattered all over the world.

Raymond White's hobbies included scuba diving, watercolor painting, photography and always working on research - even at home, Ruby White said.

Friends and colleagues remembered Raymond White as a tireless organizer, intellectually curious, selfless and larger than life, with an infectious sense of humor.

"Ray was one of my absolute favorite people in the world, and I thoroughly enjoyed working with him," said David Pankenier, a professor at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Penn., who met Raymond White a decade ago at the first meeting of Inspiration of Astronomical Phenomena.

The INSAP international conferences, which convene every few years, were organized by Raymond White and featured premier artists, historians, philosophers and scientists discussing the cultural significance of science and art. The scholars meet in locations ranging from the Vatican Observatory to Oxford University.

"INSAP will not be the same without his great heart and guiding spirit," Pankenier said. "Ray was the perfect embodiment of the ecumenical spirit of the meetings."

Raymond White received his doctorate in astronomy from the University of Illinois in Champagne-Urbana and began teaching at the UA in 1964.

Raymond White was named University Distinguished Professor in 1995, a title reserved for the UA's best professors. His research areas included galactic astronomy, globular star clusters and cultural astronomy, before he retired from the UA in July 1999.

George Rieke, a Regents professor at Steward Observatory, said Raymond White had a fascination with archaeoastronomy, and helped discover a sighting device at Machu Picchu in Peru used to synchronize the Inca calendar.

"He then led a series of tours to the site to show others not only this device, but the other astronomical discoveries of the Inca culture," Rieke said.

Gary Wells, a professor of art history at Ithaca College in New York, said Raymond White's clear grasp on astronomy connection with the larger picture of human culture was manifested through the INSAP conferences.

"He was a terrific human being: intense, fun and generous," Wells said. "He was a respected colleague and a good friend."

Raymond White was also instrumental in deterring "light pollution" in Pima County by serving on a local commission to preserve dark skies, which are important to the astronomy community because they help increase visibility.

Raymond White had a deep affinity for undergraduate students and dedicated himself to helping them, said Dennis Zaritsky, a UA professor of astronomy at the Steward Observatory and former student of Raymond White's.

"Walking around campus with him was likely to take twice as long as it would usually because everyone seemed to know him and want to say hello," Zaritsky said.

Frank Low, a UA Regents professor emeritus of astronomy who began working with Raymond White when they were "young astronomers" at the Steward Observatory, said Raymond White had a wealth of enthusiasm in his classroom that exceeded even the most dedicated teachers.

"His enthusiasm was contagious, and he had wonderful stories about his archeological trips to South America," Zaritsky said.

Ruby White, who met Raymond White in Germany after World War II and later lived in Ireland with him, said he loved to see the world and commonly said, "Stick with me and I'll take you anywhere."

"We've been in so many different countries and shared so many marvelous experiences," Ruby White said. "Magical: That was the feeling I had when went down there (Machu Picchu) with him."

Raymond White is survived by his wife Ruby, his children Raymond III, Kevin and Kathleen, and his granddaughters Charlotte and Sarah.

A memorial service will be held Wednesday at the UA Museum of Art, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made in Raymond White's name to a charity of one's choice.